When it comes to our older dogs and cats, they will almost definitely suffer from some type of joint pain, and most of this joint pain comes from a condition called arthritis. Just like humans, when they reach a certain age they start to get more illnesses, including arthritis, which can be painful, and in dogs and cats about 70% to 90% of them will get some level of arthritis during their life time. Therefore, this article will take a closer look at arthritis in older dogs, and cats and the symptoms, as well as what to look out for, so you can spot the early signs of arthritis effectively.
One of the signs in older dogs that he has arthritis is that you may notice him limping, or using one leg less than the others, depending on the joint that is giving him pain. Often, you may notice that he tends to limp more, or only first thing in the mornings, then not so much as his body warms up once he is moving around. Having said that, you may also notice him struggling a little with things that he had no problems with before, like getting in and out of the car, or walking up and down stairs.
Arthritis in cats however, may stop climbing, or jumping onto shelves or counters and other high places due to the pain arthritis is causing. Arthritis is much harder to detect in cats due to the fact that they manage to hide pain well, and this is because of their instinct to not show they are in pain for fear of predators. As the owner, you may notice subtle changes though, like him not jumping up to higher surfaces, or jumping down to lower ground, which have become less frequent for him. Moreover, his activities overall are less active too, and he even may be sleeping more frequently than before.
In cats you may notice that he has a much decreased time when he is playing, or hunt, and may not do this activity as long as he used to. In addition, you may also notice that he is sleeping in easier to access areas, and may even interact much less with people or playmates. Also, you may notice that your cat doesn’t groom himself as often as he used to, and his coat may become scruffy, or even matted. Furthermore, you might notice that he may groom himself much more on the joint that hurts him the most.
Also in older cats with arthritis, you may notice his claws becoming much longer due to inactivity levels, and there may even be temperament changes. He may become more agitated, or even aggressive when petted or handled, or he may be more aggressive towards other animals that he used to play with. Having said that, he may want to spend much more time alone, and may even avoid interaction with other animals or humans all together.
However, dogs don’t seem to mind showing their pain. Moreover, it will be easier to spot signs of arthritis, and that he is in pain. Keep in mind, that it’s not just joints that can be affected with arthritis in older dogs. Furthermore, there may be spinal issues that are connected to arthritis in dog’s, and this may result in a sore neck, or an abnormal posture, almost like a hunch back, or he may have a lameness in one or both hind legs. Also in dogs, as with cats, they may spend more time sleeping, but they may also not want to walk as far as they used to, so be prepared to cut your walks short if need be as he could be in pain.
Older pets that suffer from arthritis will often develop a condition called muscle atrophy, which is where the muscle tissue dies off due to inactivity, because of the joint pain of arthritis. Muscle atrophy can result in one, or more of the legs looking much thinner than the other normal legs, which is usually more prominent in dogs than in cats. Both dogs, and cats with arthritis, or any other type of joint pain, can often lick the area of joint pain, and even end up chewing, gnawing or biting the affected area, which in itself can lead to infections if it has got to the point of an open wound.
Arthritis in cats is fairly common in older cats, and should be checked for after about 7 years. With that said, the diagnosis is usually based on signs that can be spotted either by you or your vet. A vet can sometimes detect pain, and swelling or discomfort by examining the joints, and sometimes may decide to give an x-ray of the joints to confirm this, although it is not always needed. Once your dog, or cat has been diagnosed with arthritis, then it is a matter of managing the condition. Keep in mind, that as there is no cure, there are still medications to help ease the pain, and you can play a part by changing their environment to suit their condition too.
Once you know your dog, or cat has a joint problem, or arthritis, you can change his or her environment to make it more comfortable for them. Using soft comfortable beds in easily accessible areas where they do not have to climb, or use stairs to get to the bed is one good adjustment you can make. Additionally, placing the bed in a draft free zone, or sometimes an igloo style bed can make them feel warm and comfortable, especially with cats. Where there are steps, and if it is appropriate, you can use small ramps to gain access to favorite spots like window sills, or even a couch, and with cats make sure to get a litter tray with one low side for easy access.
For both older dogs, and cats with joint problems, try to make it so they do not have to go upstairs to access beds, food, or toys as this can be difficult for them. Moreover, groom them yourself more frequently, especially with cats, as they may not be able to do it themselves now without pain from the arthritis. In addition, try to cut their nails regularly, because they won’t naturally wear down from every day activity like they used to. Obesity will increase the pain level, so keeping them on a strict diet, so they do not become overweight is important for both dogs and cats with joint problems.
Ask your vet about dietary supplements, and pain medications to make your dog or cat more comfortable, and to be sure they are getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, there are some very good medications to help ease your older dog, or cats pain, and are usually anti inflammatory medications. However, keep in mind, that there are various side effects to using them, so it is important to speak with your vet to weigh up the pros and cons of a specific treatment. There are reports to suggest that even acupuncture could help with arthritis pain in dogs and cats, although it hasn’t been scientifically proven, and if you decide to try this method, be sure to go to a reputable professional.
Finally, when an older dog, or cat has joint problems, or arthritis, even though it isn’t curable, it is manageable, and you can play a large part in making their final years happy. Using a combination of medications, and changing their environment can help them live a few more years pain free. Having said that, if you notice anything out of the ordinary with your older pet, don’t just put it down to old age, instead get him or her checked out, because the earlier arthritis is detected the easier it is to manage, helping to lead them to having a much more comfortable life with you long term.